by Col Diptangshu Chaudhury
Mainland China was changing — fast and furious. China owes its growth to “my way or highway” posturing based on “national interest” by the single-party command regime with an alibi of communism and an enormous appetite for capitalism. Command, rather than consensus, transformed and reshaped China’s countryside fast. Determinedly, China made things happen with a sense of urgency to catch up with lost opportunities of the past. How did India change? For some, that still remains a mystery. All the more, since India was forced to sell its gold reserves to an alien land, in 1991, to avoid failing its international debt payment obligation.
Thus, between the end of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1989 and 2013, both China and India, which never figured in the list of toppers except while counting of heads, burst into the league of top 10 economies of the world with China’s performance being simply spectacular and India’s, though far from spectacular, yet, unexpectedly, exceptional. According to the 2013 figures, US’ $16.768 trillion economy was followed by China’s $9.24 trillion. And the biggest surprise on the list was the 10th placed India with a $1.875 trillion economy. No doubt, the 2013 India was still way behind the world giants (like Japan $4.92 trillion, Germany $3.73 trillion, France $2.806 trillion, UK $2.678 trillion, Brazil $2.246 trillion, Italy $2.149 trillion, Russia $2.097 trillion), but it was way ahead of its imminent bankruptcy in 1991.
China’s legendary revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, standing in front of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the 1950s, talked about Tibet and the Himalayas: “Xizang (Tibet) is China’s right hand’s palm, which is detached from its five fingers — of Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal (formerly NEFA). As all of these five are either occupied by, or under the influence of India, it is China’s responsibility to ‘liberate’ the five to be rejoined with Xizang (Tibet).”Just like Jerusalem is the cradle of both Christianity and Judaism, and Mecca and Medina the centre of Islam, the Himalayas and its waters have played a seminal role in the rise, growth and development of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The Chinese owe the origin and development of their glorious civilisation more to the twin non-Himalayan river valleys of the Hwang Ho and Yangtze than to the remote Himalayas, the abode of snow. The name originates from the combination of two Sanskrit words “him (snow)” and “alay (abode)”.
Ladakh is still with India, forced Chinese part-occupation notwithstanding. Nepal is independent and pursues its policy with great élan, despite its abolition of the monarchy and the tag of being a Hindu state. Sikkim joined India on its own volition in 1975, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a reverse gear. Bhutan too can’t be penetrated, as it is too steadfast in its approach. The proposed Chinese embassy in Thimphu is still a long way off. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the 29 states of India, and there is little to suggest that it can be anything other than that.
Therefore, the direct approach to “liberate” the “five fingers” of Xizang needs to change to an indirect one. How? By the application of “economics”. Development, investment, people-to-people contacts, profit, infrastructure, connectivity and corridor are alluring words. The Chinese aim to entice them, cajole them, as they are all landlocked terrain. All are “helpless” at the mercy of others. They need “liberation” by or under someone. Dissatisfaction and resentment is the key to their changing sides.
To begin with, a country has to have proximity to sea outlets. Five landlocked fingers cannot operate from Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea. It is remote and turbulent. It has to be the Bay of Bengal, with its six ports of Kolkata, Haldia, Khulna, Chalna, Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong. Nathu-La to Kolkata is 727 km, Dhaka 640 km, Chittagong 900 km.
No wonder China is anxious to open its embassy in Bhutan to balance New Delhi’s influence and to breach Siliguri’s “Chicken’s Neck” of less than 80 km to reach the shoreline of the Bay of Bengal. It does not matter what it takes to achieve the so-called economic goal. It matters little whether or not turbulence is created to breach the established polity of India and reach the beaches of West Bengal and Bangladesh. It is simply “economics”!
Notwithstanding China’s motives, the way out is to maintain peace and tranquillity at the tri-junction through the disengagement of troops. Moreover, the current situation demands China should first withdraw its troops from Doklam following which India would start retreating its forces from the stand-off area to preserve the status quo as before 16 June 2017. As we know, the success of India and China lies neither in war nor in military conflict but rests on peace and economic development of both the nations. Instead of armed preparedness or hiking of defence budgets, India and China should tap their soft power resources in health, education, agriculture, industry, energy, hydrology, environment, space, tourism, innovative research and cross border collaborative projects to steer the destiny of 21st Asia through harmony and shared prosperity.
As Deng Xiaoping said “Only when China and India develop well, can one claim that the century of Asia has come. If China and India strengthen cooperation, Asian unity, stability and prosperity will be very hopeful; the world will be in peace and make more progress.”